On the trail of art and more

Gwen Woolf

Make friends with the llamas at Posey Thisisit Llama Farm.

Shenandoah County’s ‘Gardens, Galleries, and Grapes’ tour welcomes spring

“This is my favorite place in the whole world,” said artist Wolfgang Neudorfer, standing in his studio, a onetime chicken house off a gravel road overlooking Virginia’s scenic Shenandoah Valley. Here, near a skylight and crackling fire, he paints landscapes with colorful fall leaves, cornfields, barns, rivers, and mountains, evoking beauty and nostalgia.

But that’s not all. The former attorney is versatile in subjects and media. Amid the paintings stacked around the room are seascapes and lighthouses, townscapes, battlefields, and festivals created in oils, watercolors, pastels, or pen and ink. His woodworking talents, which include sculptures, pots, and pepper mills made from local woods, are displayed in a nearby cottage.

Vicki Gemroth happily demonstrates her skills along the artisan trail.
Vicki Gemroth happily demonstrates her skills along the artisan trail.

“I get inspired wherever I go,” Neudorfer says.

Normally, his Toms Brook studio is open by appointment, but it’s among 20 venues holding open houses April 23–24 for “Gardens, Galleries, and Grapes,” the spring event of the O Shenandoah County Artisan Trail. Some 50 artisans and agri-artisans will offer tours, demonstrations, tastings, farmers markets, and live music. The trail roughly follows Route 11 and I-81 through the county that’s just over an hour from Washington, D.C.

Meeting the artists and seeing their natural habitats gives you a personal connection to pieces you may buy. The adventure is navigating over the back roads when sometimes even the GPS gets confused. You can’t go wrong, however, since postcard views are everywhere.

Insider tip: Download a trail brochure and map from the website (visitshenandoahcounty.com) and look for bright yellow flags.

At Earth Spirits Masks in Middletown you’re rewarded with a stunning vista. In her studio and gallery, artist Elizabeth Ashe displays the unique wall sculptures she creates from terra cotta and natural materials. Influenced by American Indian folklore, the masks depict suns, animals, and nature spirits.

Ashe says it was better when she stopped trying to impose herself on a mask, but instead allowed the energy or spirit to emerge through the clay.

“The masks would help make themselves, once I let go,” she explained.

Llamas to lamps

The tour has lots of variety. You might even get a case of llama love when you see the curious brown eyes and handsome faces of the fuzzy residents of PoseyThisisit Llamas in Toms Brook.

Make friends with the llamas at Posey Thisisit Llama Farm.
Make friends with the llamas at Posey Thisisit Llama Farm.

Joyce Hall introduces you to the 31 llamas in the barnyard, with names like Zapper, Cookie Dough, and Pooh Bear, and lets you feed them apples, cookies, and grain.

After traveling the world, Hall said she was “finally home” after settling on the farm, where she likes to educate people about llamas. Their wool yields many products.

At Swover Creek Farms and Brewery in Edinburg, tour-goers can sample handcrafted sausages and breads while seeing craft demonstrations. An outdoor wood-fired pizza oven, and a micro-brewery, beer garden, and dog park, are recent additions.

The county’s winemakers are artisans themselves, from Shenandoah Vineyards, the valley’s oldest, to newer ventures such as The Winery at Kindred Pointe and Cedar Creek Winery. All welcome visitors during the Open Door event.

Lynn St. Clair returned from Arizona to run her grandfather’s Century farm and commercial kitchen.

“The farm is in my blood. I would have been very upset if it left the family,” she said.

Two tour stops are notable for their architecture.

The Shenandoah Valley Heritage Museum at the Edinburg Mill is a beautifully restored 1848 building with three floors of nooks and crannies showcasing items from yesteryears — including Victorian undergarments. The mill even has a resident ghost.

The usually closed stone basement will have 25 artists showing everything from paintings and stained glass to walking sticks and fly-fishing lures.

The Art Group Gallery operates out of the Bowman-Shannon Cultural Arts Center, a handsome Craftsman house in Mount Jackson. Works by two dozen artists are displayed on three floors.

“My personal aspiration is to be the most creative art gallery in the area,” said Tom Chipley, the group’s president, whose graphic arts are eye-catching.

Metalsmith Ellen Fairchild-Flugel, who was minding the center recently, uses hammers and a small saw to create attractive sculptures and jewelry from copper, silver, and gold. Among her pieces are custom wedding rings with designs meaningful to each couple.

Nearby, The Little Shop, a recent trail addition, offers consignment items by 41 regional artisans.

“We want to create an inviting atmosphere where you come and hang out, not just be a place where you have to buy things,” said Krista Downs, whose husband, Brian, sometimes plays guitar on the porch.

A family staying at Bryce Resort recently swept into the shop and exclaimed in delight over the merchandise. One woman bought two lamps made from bottles.

“I don’t know why I like them, I just do,” she said. “I think they’re cool!”

Learn more:

Shenandoah Artisan Trail: visitshenandoahcounty.com, opendoortour.org

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